When we think of death, we usually think of sadness and grief. You wouldn’t imagine colorful decorations, music and parties but in Mexico this is a huge part of our culture. “Dia de los Muertos” is a two day holiday dedicated to honoring our friends and family that are no longer with us. It is a day of happiness and love instead of sadness, and for that reason it is one of my favorite holidays.
It originates from Aztec tradition and Catholicism. The Aztecs used skulls to honor the dead and when the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 16th century they brought Catholicism which meant the implementation of all saints day. Dia de los Muertos is thought to be a mixture of both these traditions.
It all begins a few days before November 1st , people gather photos of their deceased family members and offerings such as objects or food that they enjoyed, for example, their favorite tie or toy and create a “shrine”. Dia de los Muertos is a day where the spirits come to visit their loved ones and by creating their altar/ofrenda you are honoring them and welcoming them into your home. It is also common to buy marigold flowers because they are believed to light the way for the spirits to their ofrendas.
The two day tradition starts november 1st with Dia de los Angelitos which translates to day of the little angels. This day is dedicated to children that are no longer with us. On November 2nd from midnight to midday is Dia de los Difuntos which is the day of honoring adults which have passed. The ofrendas are more mature and instead of having toys and candy they usually have cigarettes, tequilas or mezcal. Families will usually reunite on this day and play board games, cook the favorite food of the deceased and then go out into the town to hear the music playing. At midday on November 2nd we celebrate Dia de los Muertos and celebrate all the spirits. People will paint their faces as skulls and there is usually a parade. The day ends with visits to cemeteries where it is customary to clean the stone and decorate it like the altar. We “laugh in the face of death” by painting our faces as a skull and decorating with skulls, it is a way of normalizing the symbol of death and viewing it as something that is part of everyone’s life and that we live in peace with.
Although I have not experienced the death of a loved one or a friend, as a Mexican, I have witnessed the wonderful holiday and the way in which it brings reassurance and comfort to the topic of death. It is also comforting to think that the spirits can visit us on this special day and by celebrating with them we are honoring them. There is a lot we can learn from this beautiful holiday, death is a part of everyone’s life so there is no use in sulking, instead we can change our perspective to accept it into our lives and remember those that are no longer with us by celebration instead of sadness as I’m sure they would’ve liked better.